Reports of an Indian hospital's segregated wards for Hindu and Muslim coronavirus patients drew concern from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, though Indian authorities strongly disputed the allegation.

"USCIRF is concerned with reports of Hindu and Muslim patients separated into separate hospital wards in Gujarat," the commission said on Twitter and Facebook April 15. "Such actions only help to further increase ongoing stigmatization of Muslims in India and exacerbate false rumors of Muslims spreading COVID-19."

The bipartisan U.S. federal government commission linked to a story in the Indian Express newspaper that cites a hospital official and a patient in the city of Ahmedabad in the western coastal Indian state of Gujarat.

India's Ministry for External Affairs opposed the commission, saying it was spreading "misguided reports" and "adding religious color" that distracts from India's efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.

"No segregation is being done in civil hospitals on the basis of religion, as clarified by the Gujarat government," the ministry said April 15.

The reports concern Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, where there are some 1,200 beds prepared for patients suffering from the novel coronavirus.

Medical Superintendent Dr. Gunvant. H. Rathod described the hospital division to the Indian Express, saying "generally, there are separate wards for male and female patients. But here, we have made separate wards for Hindu and Muslim patients."

"It is a decision of the government and you can ask them," he said.

Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister Nitin Patel said he was not aware of the situation and would make inquiries. Ahmedabad's district magistrate, K.K. Nirala, also was not aware of any decision, the Indian Express reports.

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However, the Indian Express cited a hospital patient who said the names of 28 men in a ward were called out, and they were moved to another ward.

"While we were not told why we were being shifted, all the names that were called out belonged to one community. We spoke to one staff member in our ward today and he said this had been done for 'the comfort of both communities'," the patient said.

The Gujarat Health and Family Welfare Department said the reports were "absolutely baseless." Rather, it said, patients are treated based on symptoms and severity and "according to treating doctors' recommendations.

As of Wednesday, new known cases of coronavirus in Gujarat rose by 127 to 766, with 88 cases in Ahmedabad. The death toll there totals 33, the Times of India reports.

The Indian newspaper The Week reported that the commission had previously criticized India's Citizenship Amendment Act, which became effective in January 2020.

In December 2019 the commission expressed concern about the legislation, which enshrined a pathway to citizenship for immigrants but specifically excluded Muslims. The commission recommended U.S. sanctions on India as a possible response.

The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom reviews alleged religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the U.S. president, Secretary of State, and Congress.

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The commission's 2019 report said that religious freedom conditions in India "continued a downward trend" in 2018. It said India's "history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives-including, at times, the government's allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities-that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign."

Mob violence against Christians by Hindus has been particularly acute.

In August 2019, six suspected members of a radical Hindu group were arrested after dozens of Catholics were attacked on a Marian pilgrimage from Karnataka to the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health in Velankanni, a coastal town in south east India.

In September, around 500 armed Hindu extremists attacked a Jesuit mission in the Archdiocese of Ranchi. Armed with sticks, chains, iron bars, knives, and pistols, the mob beat tribal students including two who were seriously injured, and also seriously damaged the school's facilities.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal has said numerous mob lynchings of Christians have occurred in which the victims are accused of eating beef or otherwise harming cattle, which are considered sacred in Hinduism.

Karnataka state suffered a wave of anti-Christian violence in 2008, when Hindu extremist groups led attacks on churches, schools and homes of Christians and physically beat hundreds of people. A 2011 independent report on the violence, known as the Saldhana Report, charged that attacks were pre-planned and backed by the state's highest government authorities.